SERBIA has revoked Australian mining giant Rio Tinto’s lithium exploration licences a week after tennis Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic had his visa cancelled.
Serbia appeased environmental protesters to stop a mining project, soon after Australia’s immigration minister used his power to deport the unvaccinated Djokovic from the country, preventing him playing in the Australian Open.
Serbian prime minister Ana Brnabic said her government agreed with calls from green groups to stop the US$2,4 billion Jadar lithium project which, if completed, would have made Rio a top 10 producer of lithium — an essential mineral for solar and electric car batteries.
“All decisions and all licences have been annulled,” she said.
“As far as project Jadar is concerned, this is an end.”
The decision was announced a week after immigration minister Alex Hawke cancelled Djokovic’s visa, arguing the nine-time Australian Open winner could stir protests against vaccine mandates.
Djokovic had successfully challenged the government’s attempt to cancel his visa, but after the minister’s intervention, an appeal to the federal court failed and he was forced to leave Australia.
Djokovic, who left Australia on Sunday for Dubai, had himself voiced his support for “clean air” in a December Instagram story post.
The winner of 20 Grand Slams captioned a picture of the protests, which was published by digital sports platform The Bridge.
Earlier this week, Rio had pushed back the timeline for first production from Jadar by one year to 2027, citing delays in key approvals.
Rio Tinto said it was “extremely concerned” by Serbia’s decision and was reviewing the legal basis for it.
The Australian Securities Exchange-listed company committed to the project last year, as global miners expanded their operations mining the metals needed for the green energy transition, including lithium, which is used to make electric vehicle batteries.
The mine was forecast to produce enough lithium to power 1million electric vehicles, along with boric acid, used in ceramics and batteries, and sodium sulphate, used in detergents.
At full capacity, the mine was expected to produce 58 000 tonnes of refined battery-grade lithium carbonate per year, making it Europe’s biggest lithium mine by output.
Brnabic accused Rio Tinto of providing insufficient information to communities about the project.
Rio responded by saying “it had always operated in compliance” within Serbian laws.
Thousands of people blocked roads last year in protest against the government’s backing of the project, demanding Rio Tinto leave the country and forcing the local council to scrap a plan to allocate land for the facility.
Serbia’s populist ruling coalition, led by the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), had initially showed support for lithium and copper mining but popular opinion has shifted.
There was pressure on the government to cancel the project, with elections due in April.
Sasa Djogovic of the Belgrade-based Institute for Market Research said the ruling party “is losing popularity and because of that it is forced to fulfil the demands by activists”.
The SNS-led coalition is expected to hold parliamentary and presidential elections on April 3, although the date is yet to be officially confirmed by President Aleksandar Vucic.
“We are listening to our people and it is
our job to protect their interests even when
we think differently,” Brnabic said on
The Jadar project, one of Serbia’s biggest foreign investments, was part of government efforts to draw in investment and boost economic growth.
But environmental groups in Serbia, which has been heavily scarred by industrial pollution, argued the new mine would pollute land and water.
Earlier this month, Brnabic had said the project would be likely paused at least until after the elections. – DAILY MAIL.